Neville Longbottom was confused. This wasn't an unusual occurrence, but this time instead of being confused over passwords for the Fat Lady or over some aspect of homework, he was confused over girls. Actually, he was confused over one girl in particular: Susan Bones.
Ever since the beginning of the new year, he'd been working alone in Herbology, which didn't really bother him. He knew he was more than capable in the subject to handle any plant Professor Sprout assigned, and he rather liked working alone. In the past when he worked with people like Dean or Seamus, they depended more on his knowledge than their own, which often lead to him doing a majority of the work. The same would happen on the rare times he worked with Harry or Ron. The only time he didn't have to worry about someone depending on him to know everything was when he worked with Hermione. Unfortunately, those times he spent following her by-the-book directions, as her bossy nature demanded nothing less, and Neville never had the nerve to say any different.
Today, however, he worked with someone he had never been paired with before, Susan Bones. He had never really thought much about her. They had a few classes together, but she often worked with her fellow Hufflepuffs Megan Jones, Ernie Macmillan, or Hannah Abbott before she left. He was surprised when she entered the green house without Megan and seemed to avoid sitting next to Ernie, instead choosing a seat near him.
He could tell that she wasn't looking forward to harvesting her Snargaluff by herself, so to his own astonishment, he found himself offering to work with her on the project. To his surprise and pleasure, she accepted his offer. He really enjoyed working with Susan, as she took his instructions and followed them efficiently, working beside him as a partner instead of forcing him to take charge or telling him what to do.
Every so often, he would look at her and find himself thinking how pretty she looked. Even though strands of hair fell out of her efficient braid, and sweat rolled down her face, he thought she'd never looked prettier. He felt his palms growing damp as they chatted while packing up their books at the end of class and a strange fluttering feeling dancing in the pit of his stomach.
Although he was used to rejection, hers seemed to hit harder than the rest. He didn't really expect her to want to work with him in Herbology again, and he wasn't sure why he even bothered to offer, but it was as if he couldn't stop himself. However, reflecting back on the conversation, he recalled a twinge of regret in her voice, as if she wanted to accept his offer, but couldn't.
So here he was, sitting in the Gryffindor common room, staring into space, instead of completing the Charms essay he needed to finish for class tomorrow. In fact, he was so lost in his own thought, that he never even noticed Hermione joining him until she called his name.
"Neville!" Hermione said, clearly trying to get his attention. "Neville, what were you thinking about? I've been trying to get your attention for the past few minutes."
"Oh … huh?" he replied, confused about what she was talking about.
"Neville," Hermione said in an exasperated tone. "I was asking if you wanted some help on your Charms essay, as I've noticed you seem to be stuck for a while now."
"Oh, no. That's okay, Hermione. I'm fine."
"Then what in the world is your problem? You've been staring off into space for the past half hour," Hermione asked, taking a seat at the table next to him.
Neville really wasn't sure what he wanted to say to Hermione. On one hand, he considered Hermione to be one of his closest friends, and he was sure if he shared his thoughts, she would listen and offer reasonable advice. On the other hand, Hermione was as tenacious as a dog with a new bone, and would most likely push him to do things he was not comfortable with.
Neville decided the best course of action was to play dumb. "I … uh … I was just thinking about that project we have coming up in Defense. I need to do well on the project or Snape's going to fail me for sure."
Hermione eyed him closely. "Or maybe you were thinking of your Herbology partner today."
Damn. He should have known Hermione would notice something. She never missed anything. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about."
"Really?" Hermione replied. "That's funny, because it seemed like you were working very well with a certain Hufflepuff."
"I … uh ... I," he stammered, feeling his face grow hot.
"Neville," said Hermione kindly. "Susan seemed to enjoy working with you as well."
"She did?" he asked in an incredulous voice. "Do you really think so?"
"Yes, Neville," Hermione said, getting up to leave as Harry and Ron entered the common room from Quidditch practice. "Neville, I want you to know that any girl would be lucky to have someone like you in her life."
Neville didn't know what to say as he watched her go over to Harry and Ron by the fire. He noticed she was talking more to Harry than Ron and that Ron seemed to be ignoring her for some reason. He was sure to hear about whatever transgression Hermione had committed tonight in the dormitory, as Ron was never quiet about these kinds of things. Sighing, he turned back to his essay, hoping to finish so he wouldn't have to rush the next morning.
Over the next few weeks, it seemed like Susan Bones was everywhere in the castle. He noticed her in class, in the halls during passing time, on break periods, during meal times … okay, maybe he exaggerated just a bit, but he seemed to notice her a lot more.
In class, paying attention to the Professors seemed more difficult. He tried being very casual in his glances towards her, and every so often he would catch her looking back at him. She would offer him a sweet smile and return back to her work, causing him to freeze up and turn a brilliant shade of red. He wasn't sure if it was the embarrassment of being caught staring at her or the fact that she seemed to be looking back.
Soon it was the first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin. It was a brilliant day for Quidditch, as the weather was fine; the sun was shining and the fall air was crisp and fresh. Neville was walking with Hermione to the pitch, all the while ignoring her muttering, only understanding the words, "How could he … potion … cheating … Ron …" Part of Neville wanted to ask what she was talking about, but he, like all Gryffindors, had learned it was never a wise idea to get in the middle of an argument between Ron and Hermione.
They took their seats in the Gryffindor section of the stands. Neville looked over and realized that the Hufflepuff section was quite close to them. He tried to casually look to see if Susan had arrived yet. When he didn't see her anywhere, he turned back to pitch watching as the Quidditch teams walked out onto the field with their brooms. He was so intent on watching the players that he never noticed someone sitting beside him until he felt a touch on his arm.
Sitting next to him was Susan Bones. Neville could feel his jaw drop in surprise. "Susan! Wh-what are you doing here?"
Susan raised an eyebrow as she looked back at him. "Sitting, I think. You don't mind, do you?"
"N-no," he stammered, feeling the fluttering feeling dance once again in his stomach. "D-don't you want to sit by your f-friends?"
"Well, Ernie couldn't be bothered to come to the match, and Meg joined him in the library studying," she replied, a look of disgust on her face. "I normally went to matches with Hannah, but since she's left school …" Susan trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
Neville was reminded of the Herbology class when Hannah Abbott had been guided out of class in tears after being informed her mother was dead.
"Oh," he replied, unsure of what to say.
"So anyway, when I saw you and Hermione sitting together, I figured neither of you would mind me joining you …" she trailed off, as if still unsure if he minded or not.
"I-I don't mind at all. In fact, you'll keep me company during the match. H-Hermione tends to get rather involved in games when Gryffindor plays," he said, looking over at Hermione. Sure enough, she was sitting on the edge of her seat, watching Ron's performance intently.
Susan looked over at her as well. "Is she dating Ron Weasley yet? Most of Hufflepuff are wondering."
"N-no!" Neville replied in a hushed voice, hoping that Hermione didn't overhear Susan's comment. "They're not dating, though it would be a lot more peaceful in the common room if they did. I swear I haven't seen arguments like this since fourth year."
The fluttering feeling expanded as Neville felt Susan's bell-like laugher wash over him. She gave him a bright smile and said, "I understand. Mum's the word."
Both of them turned back to the game. They watched as Ron managed to save the first goal. The Gryffindor section erupted into cheers. As he was busy paying attention to Susan when the game started, he never noticed the individual doing the commentating.
"--Weasley saves it, well, he's bound to get lucky sometimes, I suppose…"
Neville looked at the commentator's booth and sitting up there was that arse, Zacharias Smith. Neville gave a growl as Smith injected sly insults towards the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team.
Susan, noticing what he was growling at, put a hand on his arm to calm him down. "He's a right arse, isn't he?"
Neville looked at her in surprise. "B-but he's in your house!"
"Just because he's a Hufflepuff doesn't mean he can't be an arse," she replied, gazing back at Smith. "I think he's really obnoxious."
Neville gave a small snort of a laugh. Susan looked back at him, joining in his laughter. Their laughter gained in volume, finally capturing Hermione's attention.
"Neville! What on earth … Susan, I didn't realize you were here," Hermione said in surprise.
"I noticed," Susan replied in a droll tone, "you seemed to be rather involved in the game."
"Oh, well …" Hermione stammered, not quite knowing how to respond. Suddenly, the crowd cheered as Ron saved yet another goal. Hermione quickly turned her attention back to the game. Neville and Susan broke out into another round of snickers as they watched Hermione's attention shift.
They continued to watch the game as Gryffindor consistently outscored the Slytherin team. After watching the game for a while, Susan turned to Neville again.
"Yes?" Neville replied, turning to look back at her.
"Neville, r-remember a few weeks ago when you made an offer for us to work together in Herbology?" Susan asked, in a bit of a rushed voice. "I-is the offer still open?"
Neville sat there stunned for a few minutes. Never had he imagined something like this happening to him. "Y-yes?"
"Oh, good!" she replied in a thankful tone. "I was afraid you'd say no after I refused you the first time." She turned back to watch the game as Ginny scored another goal. Again, the section erupted into cheers.
Neville sat there, not paying attention to the game any longer. "Susan, can I ask …w-why?"
Susan turned back to him and gave him a rueful smile. "I suppose an explanation is in order, huh?"
Neville just nodded. He could feel his palms grow damp as he sat waiting for her explanation.
"Well, remember when I said that I've always had Meg Jones as a Herbology partner?" she explained, in somewhat annoyed tone. Neville just nodded for her to continue. "Anyway, last week, she and Ernie decided it would be a great idea to start dating, and they asked me if I wouldn't mind if they could work alone together in class. I remembered your offer, and since I wanted to take you up on it earlier, decided to see if it was still open."
"I-I see," replied Neville, not sure how to respond.
"I really enjoyed being your partner, Neville," Susan continued earnestly. "I learned a lot working with you, and I sort of thought we made a good team," said Susan, ducking her head away and blushing faintly.
"I-I thought so too," he replied, not quite believing his good luck. "I'd be h-happy to work with you in class."
"Me too, Neville."
Suddenly the crowd started to go wild. Apparently Harry and the Slytherin Seeker, Harper, had both seen the Snitch and were in a close race for it. Harper seemed to be in the lead when Harry shouted something at him, causing him to double take. Harry used the Slytherin Seeker's distraction to his advantage, capturing the Snitch.
The Gryffindor stands exploded into cheers, including Neville and Susan. A great crash sounded over the crowd, and Neville looked over to see that Ginny had flown her broom into Zacharias Smith in the commentator's booth. Both he and Susan broke into laughter at the sight of the dazed and confused Smith lying among the wreckage.
"Serves him right, the prat!" Susan cheered.
As they were leaving the stands, Susan turned to Neville with a smile. "Neville, I had a really good time today. We should do this again sometime."
"S-sure!" Neville said, a big smile breaking out on his face. "Th-that'd be brilliant!"
"Bye, Neville. See you in Herbology Tuesday," she said, giving him a quick wave. She then joined the crowd heading towards the castle.
"Bye, Susan!" Neville shouted, trying to be heard over the crowd. He couldn't believe what had happened today. Not only had a girl sat with him at a Quidditch game, but he had managed to not make a fool of himself as well. The best part was he now had a new Herbology partner. This had been one of the best days Neville Longbottom could ever remember.